The Master Through the Ages
Guest contributor Gustaff compares each incarnation of the Master so far.
What makes the Doctor such an enigmatic character to play is the fact that he has been portrayed in a wide variety of ways! This is because of the regenerative capabilities of Time Lords. We’ve had the grandpa, the uncle and the big brother among others. Part of being cast as the Doctor is the expectation to portray him as a different personality than your predecessor, but still make it believable that the character is still the same person no matter which regeneration he’s in. This expectation has been bestowed on eleven people so far and part of being a fan of Doctor Who is trying to determine how the new Doctor will behave when the mantle gets passed.
However, what we sometimes overlook is the fact that the Doctor isn’t the only Time Lord on this show. The Master has gone through several facelifts of his own over the past 50 years Doctor Who has been running. Each actor that has portrayed this renegade Time Lord has had the expectation of being distinctively different thrust upon them as well. In this article I will be analyzing what kind of man the various actors who, excluding out-of-canon appearances, have portrayed the Master have made this character into.
To correct a previous mistake I made on another article, to anyone reading, be warned that there are major spoilers after Ainley. Read at your own risk.
Actor: William Hughes
“That’s when it chose me. The drumming. The call…to war!”
Chronologically wise (from the Master’s POV), this is the first Master. His version of the Time Lord was only viewed onscreen once, during his childhood on Gallifrey, potrayed by William Hughes. Unfortunately there’s not much to say about Hughes performance since we only get to see him for about eight seconds, which incidentally is how old in years he portrays the Master in that scene. To his credit, he is the youngest actor to ever play the Master and he beautifully plays the character as a frightened and bewildered child which is of course what you’d expect the Master at that age to act like while being taken to stare into the Untempered Schism on Gallifrey.
Actor: Roger Delgado
“I am the Master and you…will obey me.”
He was chauve. He was charming. He was the first and the original (television wise). Delgado was the first to don the mantle of Master and introduced us to an adversary that paralleled the Doctor in every way imaginable. If it wasn’t for this actor’s performance, the Master would’ve died out like a regular monster of the week. He was the Doctor’s equal. The Doctor’s Moriarty! Pertwee and Delgado might’ve been great friends off-screen, but onscreen they were mortal enemies. Delgado’s portrayal often reminded me of a mafia crime boss what with the way he carried himself: sharp business suit, bread of evil and eyes that could slice and dice you in seconds. He didn’t suffer fools, dressed the part of an evil mogul and had loads of confidence in his schemes and abilities. His portrayal of the Master was quite close to how Pertwee played the 3rd Doctor actually. Both were men of action, gentlemen and oozed sophistication and charisma wherever they went. They were intelligent and even willing to work together if the outcome benefited them both. This Master wasn’t hammy or melodramatic like some of his later incarnations, but quite serious and extremely dangerous. He was a ruthless, cold-hearted monster that inspired a character that would continue to live on for 50 years. (Relatively speaking)
Actor: Peter Pratt
“Predictable as ever Doctor.”
Pratt’s Master only made one television appearance in the 4th Doctor serial The Deadly Assassin. Here, he portrayed the Master at the end of his regeneration cycle, desperately clinging to life. Pratt’s performance embodies it too as the character is malevolent, having discarded Delgado’s charm and patience. His portrayal of the Master was like a caged animal, bitter and hateful; someone ready to lash out and do whatever it took to keep living. He was the picture you’d expect to be hanging underneath the Ends Justify the Means expression.
Actor: Geoffrey Beevers
“You are good and I am evil.”
The second Master I viewed after Simm and a very enjoyable one at that. Television wise, Beevers’ Master only made one appearance in The Keeper of Traken, but the actor portrayed the Master in the audio stories Dust Breeding, Master, Trail of the White Worm and The Oseidon Adventure as well. The most magnificent of his performances would be the audio story Master which I’d strongly recommend to anyone who wants to hear true evil and beauty at work. Beevers’ portrayed the same version of the Master as Pratt, but like every actor before and after, made the role his own and reinvented the character. Beevers was chosen to portray the decaying Master mainly because of his voice, which if you haven’t had the honor of hearing the man speak, breathes evil, even if he isn’t in costume Likewise, this Master is less feral than Pratt’s Master. In his performances, he combines the sophistication and elegance of Delgado with the clichéd campiness that most card carrying villains in TV shows have nowadays, specifically cartoons, but molds the performance into a unique terror that makes even zombies lie down and play dead. Beevers portrayed the Master as a creature who just loved to be evil and enjoyed every delicious moment of it. Listening to Beevers on screen or CD, I find myself still shivering at his evil as well.
Actor: Anthony Ainley
“Oh my dear Doctor. You have been naïve.”
The first time I viewed Ainley was in Castrovalva and like his immediate predecessor, I fell in love with the performance. Ainley, admittedly, the hammiest incarnation of all the Masters, gave a wonderful performance in every serial he was in. To those of you who didn’t know, Ainley not only enjoyed the role, but lived it. And it shows! Colin Baker, in the commentary for The Mark of The Rani claimed that Ainley “only ever wanted to play the Master.” A master of disguise (pun intended), Ainley’s was prone to varying degrees of world conquering schemes. He was cunning, probably the most intelligent of all the Masters, demonstrated on countless occasions where his version was able to accurately predict the Doctor’s next set of moves in advance and plan accordingly. He was also a keen strategist, having back-up upon back-up plan waiting in the wings for when things went wrong. Like his predecessor, he enjoyed his villainy, and occasionally taunted the Doctor for being foolish enough to fall into one of his traps and not even seeing past his various, sometimes lame disguises. Lastly, Ainley acted as the Master against four Doctors, from Tom Baker to Sylvester McCoy, earning his incarnation the award for facing the most incarnations of the Doctor yet and therefore being the most versatile.
Actor: Alex MacQueen
“Shut up or I’ll kill you. In fact…yes. I think I’ll kill you anyway.”
I did say ALL the actors who have portrayed the Master. That includes voice actors. For those of you who haven’t listened to UNIT Dominion – I apologize in advance! The last incarnation of the Master Sylvester’s Doctor faced onscreen was Ainley. The actor died in 2004. It is often presumed that had Ainley lived, there would’ve been many more Master stories on audio. Big Finish brought Beevers’ Master back for a story entitled Dust Breeding where the Ainley body was said to have worn down, forcing the Master to degenerate into the pre-Ainley form. When this idea didn’t quite go the distance it should’ve, the folks at Big Finish decided to create a new Master, set further in the character’s future, after Dust Breeding, but before the TV Movie and that is how MacQueen’s Master came to be. His portrayal of the Master echoes Simm’s, but a lot of people, that have listened to UNIT Dominion, will agree that MacQueen really deserves it. I’m not exaggerating how good this guy is in this story. His take combines Time Lord Victorious David Tennant’s extreme arrogance, bucket loads of Tom Baker’s eccentricity, Matt Smith’s smugness, Colin Baker’s vein and self-confidence, but MacQueen’s Master is as clever as Sylvester’s, if not more so. If that isn’t a recipe for true evil, then I don’t know what is. I have to say, MacQueen’s Master has taken the top spot in my heart.
Actor: Gordon Tipple
“They say he listened calmly, as his list of evil crimes was read.”
His portrayal of the Master is like Hughes’. We didn’t get enough footage or dialogue to really admire or grow on him. Presumably, Tipple was playing the same incarnation as MacQueen, or if you don’t count audios, Ainley at the time of this scene. All I can say about Tipple’s Master is that he appears to be dressed in a Delgado suit. He also doesn’t seem to mind the fact that he’s about to be incinerated.
Actor: Eric Roberts
“Life is wasted on the living.”
I know! I know! I read the forums too. Compare Eric’s Master to Colin’s Doctor – The midlife crisis. Although I enjoyed Roberts’ performance as the Master, most fans don’t share my view. His incarnation was the most melodramatic and prone to hammy dialogue yet. Roberts’ Master seemed to be a joke, yet ironically, he embodied a lot of Pat Troughton, one of the favorite incarnations of the Doctor, in his incarnation. He was sneaky, cunning, manipulated others quite easily and appeared to be one step ahead of the rest. Furthermore, Roberts’ Master, like McGann’s Doctor at the time, was more of an amalgamation of his previous incarnations. He was feral like Pratt, hammy like Ainley. To put it bluntly, this incarnation was a showman. A thespian! Dressing up in Time Lord attire and flaunting his power, control and ego all over the place. The characteristic that set this incarnation apart from the others (and led to his downfall) was his extreme vanity and overconfidence.
Actor: Sir Derek Jacobi
“That is not my name!”
The Master’s return in Utopia was handled differently than other episodes. He was shown regenerating for the first time onscreen. This was done to reintroduce a new generation of fans to this immortal villain. Professor Yana, the Master’s delightful alter ego, was the Jekyll to the Master’s Hyde. Where Jacobi’s Jekyll was lovable, adorkable, his Hyde was a man more enraged and frustrated than I’d ever seen the Master before. This was most likely because of the Master’s consciousness being trapped in the fob watch for years, forced to listen to Yana and his assistant go on and on about their goody-goody acts and plans of human preservation. Listening to this must’ve been just as torturous as the drumming inside his head.
Actor: John Simm
“My name is the Master.”
Simm started off playing the current Master as an evil version of the 10th Doctor: Talkative, cheeky and all too aware of how clever he was. Like the then current Doctor, he often acted like an idiot, but never missed a beat and used this trait to throw his opponents off their guard, very Pat Troughton. In The End of Time, his portrayal turned more sinister. We saw a more feral version of the Master, animalistic and psychotic. Perhaps a call back to Pratt! Simm’s portrayal in The End of Time was closer to someone playing a complete raving psychopath, fully in his element. For the first time in the show’s history, the Master was shown to be a true ‘humanitarian’.
From the above, it is clear that there is as much terror and pressure resting on somebody’s shoulder portraying the Master as there is for someone playing the Doctor. You’ve also noticed that I didn’t add the Curse of Fatal Death, Scream of the Shalka or Sympathy for the Devil’s Master. This is because, while the continuity between the audios and television series is left open, these stories outright state that they aren’t canon. However, for your reading pleasure, I’ve added my personal interpretation of the Master as seen throughout the actors below:
- William Hughes – The Kid
- Roger Delgado – The Suit
- Peter Pratt – The Corpse
- Geoffrey Beevers – The Voice
- Anthony Ainley – The Beard
- Alex MacQueen – The Other
- Gordon Tipple – The Flash
- Eric Roberts – The Ham
- Derek Jacobi – The Tortured
- John Simm – The Maniac
What do you think the next Master will be like?